I took my friend's 2bitsworth words and permission and posted them here... read and comment as you like, he uses words much better than I. Enjoy...
In the March 29 issue of Bluffton Today Mr. George Wilson, our esteemed school board member from the Bluffton/Sun City area, replies to a letter to the editor by Mr. Albert Slechter that was printed on March 21, 2008. Mr. Slechter proposes that the referendum be postponed for a number of reasons and Mr. Wilson predictably attempts to refute the idea of postponement, strongly lobbying for passage of the referendum.
The exchange is good for Beaufort County voters as any discussion that includes both opposing and supporting views will only serve to inform the voting public, and this exchange is a good start to discussing the upcoming referendum.
I suggest that we stipulate that the Bluffton area needs both more schools and more classrooms at existing schools – those are a given. There’s no debate on that subject. There is, however, some debate on the priority of which schools should be built/expanded first and some question the need and affordability of Early Childhood Learning Centers to house non-mandated programs. That discussion though would best be conducted separately from the bigger referendum discussion. For the time being, and for the sake of discussion, let’s accept the plans for new Bluffton schools.
That leaves us with the rest of the referendum and the projects contained therein as well as that portion of the five year plan financed with 8% money. Many of the projects are, by definition, maintenance items. Items that should be paid for through annual maintenance budgets not long-term financing. This is particularly so in the category of painting walls and doorways. There is no logical reason to finance painting. What’s more, there is no logical or rational argument that supports a correlation between painted walls and student achievement. Yet that is exactly what the Board/District is arguing, that painting these walls are “absolutely necessary” for student achievement. Bull hockey. I challenge the District to provide data supporting improvements in student achievement due to newly painted walls and doors.
Roof & HVAC replacement are more appropriate capital-type renovations to finance through bonds, painting is most certainly not and, further, painting is not “absolutely necessary” for student achievement.
There are two major projects in this referendum that are not “absolutely necessary” for student achievement within the District. Those two being the $888,000 wrestling facility at Battery Creek High and the $9.7 million state-of-the-art performing arts center at Beaufort High. I believe Mr. Slechter had these in mind when he referred to “piling on”. I prefer to refer to these projects as pork-barrel spending – school board members bringing home the bacon for their districts. Even Mr. Washington doesn’t defend these two with anything more than “parents asked for these.”
No, these two projects are not “absolutely necessary” for student achievement – they represent the special interests of two small groups at their respective high schools. We no more need these than we need an advanced rocket propulsion lab at our high schools. Nice to have, but not “absolutely necessary”.
Mr. Wilson cites some consultant reports to support his arguments for the various projects in the 5 year capital plan. One report that he does not cite is the Carey report which clearly states that there is no need for additional classrooms north of the Broad save for the Lady’s Island area. This “oversight” on his part is relevant to two projects that are, in fact, adding classrooms exactly where the Carey report says we don’t need them. Within the list of projects in the referendum is to “add classrooms” at Mossy Oaks Elementary. It’s no secret that there are hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats north of the Broad, several hundred of which are right down the road (literally within minutes) at Beaufort Elementary. There is no need to expand the capacity at Mossy Oaks, but there is a compelling need to expand the attendance zones of Beaufort Elementary where the enrollment hovers somewhere around the 50% mark.
The other project is actually from the 2000 referendum but is addressed in the report overlooked by Mr. Wilson. There is no need for Whale Branch High School, none whatsoever. Again, there are hundreds upon hundreds of empty seats north of the Broad. Battery Creek High School is not at capacity and this is the school from which Whale Branch High will draw its enrollment. The construction of Whale Branch High will result in hundreds more empty seats north of the Broad. What’s more, every single feeder school to Whale Branch High is experiencing a trend of dropping enrollments. A trend that is projected to continue. Another example of pork-barrel spending on the part of the School Board. Mr. Wilson campaigned for his seat on the Board under the banner of accountability and wise planning yet he continues to support the construction of this needless school and the increase of empty seats north of the Broad.
He (Mr. Wilson) also points out that it would be wise to pass the referendum to save money on construction materials. His statement presupposes that all $162.7 million will be spent immediately and construction materials will be purchased at today’s prices. Hellooooo out there, two years after the 2006 “emergency referendum” we still haven’t spent hardly anything on materials for the two new schools in Bluffton. In fact both are over original cost projections albeit for a variety of reasons. A project list of this magnitude does not get completed overnight, inflation is a key component of any planning. His red-herring argument to accept the pork-barrel spending to avoid inflation falls flat when the light of truth is shone upon the facts.
He likens the cost of this referendum to a few happy meals, or a day of golf. This is not unlike the argument used in the 2006 referendum. Most astute taxpayers are still waiting for an explanation of what happened to almost half of their property tax relief last year. I wouldn’t accept their cost projections as gospel any more than I would accept that we can improve education by simply throwing more money at the problem – which is what we are doing with this referendum. Further, the School Board/District as well as County Council have all targeted the tax savings realized as a result of the property tax relief – they are intent on getting their hands on that money one way or another. They unashamedly make reference to that tax savings in comparative terms to the cost of this 5 year plan.
We cannot afford frivolous spending such as that we see in this referendum. Demand accountability by voting “NO” to the referendum on April 26 and FORCE them to give us a referendum without the pork-barrel spending. A “NO” vote doesn’t mean that Bluffton won’t get schools, it means that we don’t accept all of the baggage that they are packaging with the real needs. If this referendum is defeated we will see another in less than 6 months, pared down to include only real needs – not pie-in-the-sky projects like $888k wrestling facilities and $10 million auditoriums.